Like many Albion fans, The Hawthorns was the last place I really wanted to be after Saturday’s surrender against Arsenal. In The Vine before the game, I’d hoped to see at least three of four changes by Irvine – in a sign of intent more than anything else.
Yet only the injured Sebastian Pocognoli and the out of soughts Youssouf Mulumbu were dropped. In came utility man Chris Baird and Victor Anichebe. Great. Irvine’s plan was to reshuffle his midfield with Sessegnon played wide and Chris Brunt partnering Craig Gardner in the middle.
Much like against Arsenal, Albion started the brighter. Anichebe was linking up well with Berahino on one flank and Sessegnon on the other. In the 9th minute, Anichebe burst down the left and was fouled by James Tomkins. Graham Dorrans sent over a curling cross which Craig Dawson headed into the Smethwick End net. It was the start Irvine and Albion wanted and needed.
Yet, much like against Arsenal, Albion lost impetus and momentum. Gardner and Brunt struggled to get hold of the game and allowed West Ham’s midfield time on the ball. Dorrans failed to get tight enough to Stewart Downing, who was allowed on three occasions to send in crosses for Andy Carrol.
After Brunt had been harsly penalised and booked for a sliding tackle on Kevin Nolan, Downing sent across a free kick which Albion failed to deal with. The ball fell to Andy Carrol, whose acrobatic volley was parred into the path of Nolan, who headed home unmarked from two yards.
The Baggies should’ve learned their lesson from a couple of minutes before when Ben Foster had to be brave to block Nolan and Cheikhou Kouyate from close range from a similar free kick.
The goal knocked any confidence Albion had. Defenders settled for playing the ball back to Foster instead of playing forward. Anichebe failed to have the same impact he did early on and the Baggies simply couldn’t string together two or three passes.
It was no surprise when the visitors took the lead. Downing sent across a corner and Tomkins jumped above Dawson to score his first goal for two years. Albion’s organisation at the corner summed up their results and performances under Alan F-ing Irvine.
After the break
Albion had a great chance to equalise minutes into the second half. Lescott did well to head down a Mulumbu chip. Berahino mis-kicked and the ball fell to Craig Dawson. But the defender skewed his volley wide from eight yards out.
Anichebe was next to try his luck. Sessegnon found the powerful striker who turned his man and fired goalwards from a tight angle. Hammers’ keeper Adrian palmed the ball around the post.
Although it was Albion in the ascendency, we never really looked like scoring.
The introduction of Silvestre Varela did raise Albion’s spirits and gave us another dimension down the left. Oh how nice it was to see a true winger. Varela was happy going either on his right side or left and showed some nice trickery on the ball. When he came inside, he headed down for Baird, who could only shoot wide from the edge of the area.
Albion were running out of time and The Hawthorns crowd urged Irvine to throw more men forward. The crowd started chanting Ideye’s name but only Samaras was warming up. Suddenly though, the record signing was stripped down and ready for action. Irvine sent him wide right.
Anichebe was again stopped by Adrian when his close range shot cannoned back of the goalkeeper’s legs. The ball fell to Mulumbu but he was unable to control the ball and West Ham cleared. Seconds later, Dorrans fired a volley inches wide of the post.
It was clear we weren’t going to get an equaliser. Dawson fired Albion’s final chance wide.
It was an improved performance on the Arsenal defeat. Yet a defeat is a defeat. Clueless Irvine seems incapable of either selecting a side or the right tactics to turn things around. Sure we’ve lost to in-form West Ham, Newcastle and Chelsea and Arsenal. But it’s the manner of the defeats. Against Chelsea and Arsenal we rolled over too easily. It was like watching Mowbray’s Albion when he gave up results against the bigger teams. We were toothless up front against Newcastle and sloppy against the Hammers. It simply isn’t good enough.
We were told that Irvine is one of the best coaches in the land. The thing is, right now, Albion don’t need another coach. They need a leader, a manager. Somebody to lay down the law, bring a bit of passion to the club. When you think of Alan Irvine do you think of him as a leader of men? An inspirational figure? No, me either.
Although Albion took an early lead, our midfield never imposed itself on the game. Why does Irvine insist on continuing to pick Dorrans and Brunt when they offer nothing going forward? The same could be said of Gardener. Don’t even get me started on Widsom at right back. He’s the Jonathan Greening of right backs the amount of pivots he does on the ball. Baird’s first pass was always backward last night.
Sessegnon played well out wide – as did Varela when he came on. Mulumbu looked his old self in midfield and worked really hard to try and get Albion back in the game. Anichebe looked threatening at times, but that was about as good as it got for Albion. Too many players are underperforming at the moment.
The game against Hull on Saturday is now massive. If Irvine loses that, I can’t see how he can possibly be in charge for the Villa game. Not one Albion fan wanted him to get the job and now Jeremy Peace has a serious case of egg on his face. It’s only a matter of time before Irvine gets called into Peace’s office…
Come on you Baggies.
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